Chip manufacturer Qualcomm, which is locked in a bitter patent battle with tech giant Apple that has yet to go to trial, is asking U.S. trade officials to reverse a court ruling and impose a ban on imports of some iPhones, Reuters reported on Tuesday.
Qualcomm originally brought case before the U.S. International Trade Commission in 2017, alleging that several features in Apple’s iOS violated its patents and that the latter company owes it $7 billion in royalties and licensing fees. As Reuters noted, ITC administrative law judge Thomas Pender found that Apple had violated the patents but declined to impose a ban “on some older iPhone models containing Intel Corp chips,” ruling that would give Qualcomm an unfair advantage in the U.S. mobile chip market. However, Qualcomm did win partial bans in Germany, as well as China.
According to AppleInsider, the specific dispute is over power saving techniques for wireless modems. Apple recently disclosed that it had patched its software to render one of the patent disputes a moot point, with AppleInsider reporting it rolled out in iOS 12.1 (late October 2018).
Any ban is unlikely to result in serious long-term consequences for Apple, Reuters wrote, as the company is asking for half a year to demonstrate the fix is functional:
Any possible ban on iPhone imports to the United States could be short-lived because Apple last week for the first time disclosed that it has found a software fix to avoid infringing on one of Qualcomm’s patents. Apple asked regulators to give it as much as six months to prove that the fix works.
... Cases where the ITC finds patent violations but does not ban the import of products are rare. In December, the full ITC said it would review Pender’s decision and decide whether to uphold or reverse it by late March.
Qualcomm, for its part, is arguing in court that Apple’s fix was rolled out despite Apple insisting in court it was impossible to patch it, something that may have influenced Pender’s earlier decision. It is also requesting that the court deny Apple’s request for a six-month delay if a ban is to be imposed, according to AppleInsider.
Conversely, Apple is insisting that Qualcomm’s patent licensing practices are illegal—a dispute already being hashed out in Qualcomm’s separate, ongoing legal battle with the Federal Trade Commission, which has yet to result in a verdict. The two companies will go to trial in April, well within Apple’s requested window for a fix and likely after the FTC case concludes.